Archive for November 19th, 2014


From: Meridian, ID:

Hunting in Montana was special this year. In truth, it is quite special every year, but still, this year a little more so for me because instead of being in the hills with good friends and just one of my sons, both of my sons were there this time. For the first time. Ever.

But it was a bit of a rocky start. Initially, Erik was to fly into Bozeman, MT on the afternoon of Saturday, November 1st, the same day George and I were driving up from Idaho. We figured to make Bozeman right about the same time Erik’s plane would be landing. That plan also had Erik flying home the morning of Thursday, November 6th.

Then, as Geo and I were cruising up Interstate 15, somewhere near the Idaho/Montana border, I got the bad news from Erik: Due to a vehicle accident tying up the freeways in the LA basin, he wasn’t able to check in for his flight in time! Aaargghh! Worse yet, not only did he miss his Delta departure, the airline seemed supremely unconcerned about it…their people did nothing to try to get him on a different airline, or a different route, or even a different day. Since he had purchased a “non-refundable” ticket, and didn’t make it on his scheduled aircraft, the ticket was simply worthless.

Erik and I spoke at length, of course. We were both very disappointed, and what with still having to drive from LAX back to his home in Palmdale, his inclination was to cancel the trip altogether and perhaps try again next year. Happily, after he got home and thought about it a bit more, he elected to book a flight out the next morning. Different route, and different airline. All went smoothly and I picked him up at the airport just before 1:00 PM on Sunday. (FYI, Bozeman Airport is actually located in Belgrade, Montana…about 8 miles west of Bozeman.) Erik was also able to get an additional day off at the end of his trip, as well, so he would be staying until Friday, November 7th, the same day as Jerry, George, and I.

(Elk crossing the road near Clyde Park, MT.)

(Elk crossing the road near Clyde Park, MT.)

This year was different for yet another reason, aside from Erik’s joining our group. Even before we arrived we were getting reports of elk herds being seen in the area. My sister-in-law, Deanna (who graciously allows us to use her wonderful log cabin as a hunting camp), sent pictures of elk in the area, only days before we were due to arrive. And it was to be verified as a good omen…we saw hundreds of them while we were there. (Of course seeing them did not necessarily mean they were in an area where we had permission to shoot them. We did have some chances, though.)

Life in a hunting camp, whether made up by sleeping bags around a campfire or in a near-luxury log house like Deanna’s, quickly settles into a day-to-day routine. If one is lucky enough to be with a group that includes a full-time chef like friend George, the routine starts with him making breakfast as the waking hunters straggle in one by one from the bathhouse. Without George – or someone like him – one is much more likely to start the day with a cold cinnamon roll. And having experienced both, I can tell you that eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee stay with a person quite a bit longer than a stale cinnamon roll. (And I actually like stale cinnamon rolls…as long as they are the kind that contain raisins.)

(Erik assumed bartender duties - Cadillac Margaritas, extraordinaire.)

(Erik assumed bartender duties – Cadillac Margaritas, extraordinaire.)

At our camp, we always have the option of heading out on foot, hunting the acreage the cabin sits on or striking out to cousin Sam’s land, adjacent to the north. Deanna’s piece includes a travel route much favored by elk heading down from the Crazy Mountains towards the government feeding station several miles southeast. Sam’s property is mostly forested, and holds elk and deer that are simply “hanging out” or moving slowly to the flatlands for the winter.

Or, various members of the group may elect to take a pickup and hunt an area farther away from camp, either public land or other property on which we have permission to hunt.

As it happened, Greg, Carl, and Jason opted to look on Sam’s piece, and on some of the National Forest land beyond. Turns out they saw a pretty nice four-point buck on the way back to the cabin in the afternoon…but all three of them passed on the buck. Well, why not? One is always a bit hesitant to shoot the very first deer one sees…on the first day. After all, what if all the really big ones are still out there, waiting for just the right moment to make an appearance? Not fun, if one has already filled his tag.

(Greg, planning the next day's hunt.)

(Greg, planning the next day’s hunt.)

So we spent Sunday evening discussing the hunts of previous years; the correct technique – and ingredients – for the construction of the perfect margarita; and the evening dinner menu. For that, George enlisted the help of Carl, the “barbecue baron,” to grill the steaks on the portable Traeger Grill he brought along. (Hey…our motto is: Go First Class or stay home, know what I mean?) Carl did not disappoint…the steaks were great! As was everything else with the meal. Cousin Sam stopped in for dinner, making the evening all the more special.

Monday morning: The first thing after sunup, Greg, Jason, and Carl jumped a herd of elk on one of the lower sections we had permission to hunt. A few shots were fired, but nothing fell down and soon, the herd had dispersed in two different directions, both of which had led them onto property we did not have permission to hunt.

(Jason's deer is down in the coulee in the foreground.)

(Jason’s deer is down in the coulee in the foreground.)

Jerry and I, with Erik riding along, were scouting a couple of our favorite coulees when we learned Jason had tagged a buck a mile or two away from us. Within minutes, we were with the boys, getting the story of the shot, and watching the retrieval of the buck. He had run a ways through the sagebrush growing on that piece of pasture and had finally fallen in a small gully. In earlier years, it would have been a long way to drag a dead deer, but Greg has taken to carrying a spool of “mule tape,” a ¾ inch wide pulling tape of polyester blend material. The spool Greg uses has a tensile strength rating of 2,500 lbs, which is easily enough to pull a mule deer buck out of a canyon…or whatever. And in this case, Greg was able to get a straight pull with his truck, needing only fifty yards or so to get the deer out of the gully. (The mule tape was to come in handy several more times!)

(Jason, with his nice mule.)

(Jason, with his nice mulie.)

The buck was a beauty! A mature, four-point mule deer, and Jason dropped him on the run at what was later “lasered” to be about 400 yards! (I don’t know about you, but that is waaaay beyond my “comfort” range.)

By the time the field dressing was accomplished, it was coming on close enough to lunch to head back to camp, although the boys decided on a detour to town (about ten miles west) to pick up some necessaries. Let me tell you, when bottomless beer mugs are part of the camp, Greg and his compadres can process the hell out of a deer carcass! Hang ‘em up; skin ‘em; take off the quarters; salvage the backstrap and tenderloin; and, finally, deposit the hide, hooves, and naked ribs in a place where coyotes and birds will be sure to find it. (Which means approximately 99 percent of the Montana countryside.) We don’t know for sure, but it’s certainly possible – if not probably – that some larger predators may get some of it, too.

So, the “skunk” was out of the camp! The first buck was down and taken care of. And the afternoon awaits…

Stay tuned for Part Two.